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I.R.O.K. Photo: Mike TItle.

Hear Morocco's Young Experimental Electronic Music Scene In This New EP

I.R.O.K. teams up with the Moroccan electronic label V.I.V. for this entrancing new EP and remixes.

London-based outfit The Intergalactic Republic of Kongo (I.R.O.K.) is teaming up with Moroccan label and collective V.I.V. for the new single "Ich Will Nach Hause Gehen."

The new song, which I.R.O.K's half-Moroccan frontman, Mike Title, describes as a "a psychotropic Saharan rave banger" is being released in an EP that features remixes from young Moroccan producers across Casablanca, Meknes, and Rabat.

Mike compares the blistering new track to "the feeling of that fine line between having the time of your life and being trapped, unable to ever go home."

As I.R.O.K, he played gigs in theatres, town squares, pirate DVD stores and beaches across Morocco while working on this new track, so it made sense to partner with V.I.V., a label formed to showcase the wave of electronic music that is emerging from bedrooms across North Africa, for its release.

Below, we talk to Mike and V.I.V co-founder Simoh about the new EP.

Who is I.R.O.K.?

Mike Title: I.R.O.K. is The Intergalactic Republic of Kongo. An altered state in that moment of delirious joy. It is driving that impulse to the point where neither recklessness nor certainty have any meaning. It's blood and noise on tape. Music, LIVE MUSIC. The new album is filled with love. When you come see us play in the dark it's so live, that we take you with us like no one else can. It's super raw.

What are your ties to Morocco?

Mike Title: I'm half-Moroccan, my grandfather is from the mountains that I'm sitting on as I type this. I'm in a windowless bar drinking Ricard in thick plumes of smoke. Violent angles of Berber music is blasting off the tiles. In the mornings I've been drinking thick black coffee in a haze, higher than the clouds up here in the Atlas. This is where I return so that I can be happy to leave. Morocco inspires me to make music in its humour; the dancing; the drums; the weather; the magic; the openness of spirit...everything.

What is the V.I.V. collective and its mission?

Simoh: V.I.V. is a label/collective of artists and producers from Casablanca founded by myself, Simoh EL HAMMOUMI, Rayane KARA, Simo BENMANSOUR and Ham ROBATI on July 15th, 2017. Its aim for now is to bring together non-established Moroccan artists, DJs and producers to present their own brand of music and art to a Moroccan audience. We wish to create a self-sustaining music scene in Morocco, teaming up with artists, promoters, venues, media, and event organisers for Moroccan music artists to strive forwards with their art.

More than a collective, V.I.V. is a concept. The idea that there can be an alternative music scene in Morocco. We have educated ourselves on the basis of sound itself and its protean nature, its geography and its sonic iterations. As artists we all like different things but we share the same kink for alternative music and an avid sensibility towards experimentation.

What are young Moroccans listening to these days? Is electronic music big there right now?

Simoh: There's definitely a tradition set in stone where young Moroccans listen to Arab music: Chaabi, Gnawa or Rai. That won't change any time soon.

The young Moroccan male mostly listens to rap. Rap speaks to us more than politics or hope. There is a recent rise of young, Moroccan rappers. Today, the rap scene is healthier than ever and our own young "trap" artists have made the scene even more popular than soccer.

The experimental electronic music scene is what V.I.V. Collective is a part of. It's mostly a bilingual community, as mostly people from the educated parts of society are pushing it forward. Moroccan society is divided by language—a large portion of us are illiterate. Speaking two languages (Darija + French or English) is a luxury. I hope that our scene can widen its scope of entry but, regardless of demographics, electronic music is becoming more popular. People are getting more exposed to it and they want to participate in different ways. Those abroad are also getting curious about what's happening. The scene is growing very fast and it's young passionate people driving it.

Tell us about the four young producers who remixed the single—Rayane Kara, Realm, Imane el Halouat, and Sumo Hamed.

Simoh: Rayane and Simo (Sumo Hamed) are like brothers to me and are co-founders of V.I.V. We are a team, a gang and focused on our project to reach as many people as we can. We created V.I.V. with Hamza (our Art Director) to give a voice to marginalised Moroccan artists and we are based in Casablanca and Rabat.

Imane and Soufiane (REALM) are artists who we have wanted to collaborate with for a while. REALM has an amazing EP coming out soon by the way! He's based in Casablanca. Imane is from Meknes and has just moved to France. She's super talented and hopefully will inspire other young women in North Africa to make music by themselves.

Each artist has reworked the song in their own way on this EP. It carries "the feeling of that fine line between having the time of your life and being trapped, unable to ever go home" as Mike says. it is something that resonated very deeply with us.
We're working with I.R.O.K. on this project to extend and shift the Moroccan sound. Sumo's catchy weirdness or Realm's hypnotic drums take the song different places. Imane offers a naked stripped back take. Rayane has a knack for creeping emotion.

I.R.O.K. have such spirit that it overflows on their track. It's full of heart. I think those are all notions rarely covered in Morocco and it's nice to take on that twisted perspective.

Photo: Mike Title.

Are there other similar electronic music labels and collectives popping up in Morocco?

Simoh: There's a handful but we all have different objectives. I think we're really focusing on Morocco as opposed to others who may have their sights on Europe. Not that we don't want to limit ourselves. We all have our own vision and avoid stepping on each other's toes. I want to make it that we help each other and work together but the modern world seems against it maybe. I do recommend our great friends Casa Voyager who release electro on vinyl. Really cool stuff.

Mike, you traveled to Morocco during the time you were making this new recording. How did being there influence this track:

Mike Title: I love Berber music from the '70s and '80s; the sound of it, how it's recorded live, the tape compression, the yearning in the vocals, the female refrains. It's designed to envelop you in trance. I like to try and get horizontal and watch the way everything moves and is connected. I don't try to find any of it on YouTube, it wouldn't sound right.

I have been back and forth to Morocco all my life and music is now making this adventure deeper for me. In the region I travel to the most, people know me now. They know what I'm about and talk to me about the shows we have done or people we know in common. They seem either happy to see me or laugh at how ridiculous I am. That's life. Some days strangers stare and sometimes I can become invisible. Berbers are the original time travelers, that's what they tell me. Im learning to breathe easily but every single day that passes I feel like I have less and less connection with the physical world. I imagine that this may wear off. In Morocco I have made connections that make me understand who I am and what I want. As soon as my feet hit the ground out here, something switches in me, like . Space Mountain. If I go down the pub in London and I'm watching the football or if I'm wandering down into a valley absorbing sun and pollen: neither is separated from the other. I'm both.

The shadow of Brexit though has made me, for the first time in my life, question how proud I am of being British. All this in a time where technology makes the notion of my identify more confused than ever.

Catch The Intergalactic Republic of Kongo live in London this Friday, December 8. Full event info here.

Photo: Mike Title

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Collage by Ta'Ron Joyner

I Would Rather Breathe Than Think Outside the Box

South African artists were already working for little to no pay, but the pandemic has unleashed a flood of exploitative work requests right when we need money the most.

This essay is part of OkayAfrica's SA Reframed series, featuring personal writing from some of South Africa's best young writers edited by Verashni Pillay.

On the radio the other day, I heard a small business owner of a costume design company being interviewed and asked how they have managed to:

a. Reinvent themselves during this period, and

b. Think outside the box while doing so.

Their conversation made me think about how I have not managed to wrap my head around any sort of future, or reinvention outside any kind of box—beyond the one that wraps itself around my immediate reality. When the lockdown was announced, three friends and I withdrew to a remote area where internet access was dubious and, most times, simply not available. I would need to walk a bit of a distance to locate a spot under a tree or up a mountain to be connected for thirty minutes, or so.

Then I would do a basic comb through my emails and respond to work or requests that were already underway pre-lockdown. I only responded to new requests that either afforded me the opportunity to earn an income or those that allowed me to be productive on my own terms.

I was tired, lowkey grateful for the global pause, and no longer interested in the overly productive, overloaded nature of my previous normal. Something about the forced halt made me realise that I was on the edge of everything—myself included. I turned down anything that required me to join the endless online festivals, zoom panel discussions, Instagram takeovers and live readings. I refused all opportunities that needed me to grapple with any sort of forced normalcy. The ones that offered data or airtime or solidarity as compensation or assumed that I had gone pro bono. I needed a moment. I needed the space and time to re-bargain with the point of it all.

The pause was both useful and scary. It brought to the surface fears and revelations about the shortfalls of our industry and how creatives are positioned within the productivity machinery and economy of South Africa, or rather all the ways we fall outside of it.

As Minister of employment and labour Thulas Nxesi mentioned in a briefing two months ago, "On the issue of freelance workers—unfortunately with the current legislation they fall outside. Maybe what we are going to do is that after this we will have to re-look at it in terms of our legislative amendments and start a debate about that." Why are there laws that have gone unchallenged? Who should be challenging them? Why are artists hearing, out loud for the first time, of convenient loopholes that render us outside of an economy that taxes us like everyone else, and consumes us and our work. Yet, in times of crisis, this same economy engages with our art and our productivity and our products, but still deems us on the margin, outside, and non-essential. If we are not assisted financially, how can we be productive, how can we acquire the resources to produce? How can we apply our minds to anything else outside of survival and scrambling to stay afloat.

Pandemics do not mean that artists have gone pro bono

When you approach an artist with the assumption that they have gone pro bono during this time, when you draft an email to request a collaboration, a commission, a participation, a productivity of any kind, please bear in mind that artists are up against an unconcerned and corrupt government that has failed to provide aid and assistance to their sector during this time.

Theatre critic Sara Holdren says "Art is hard and most of it fails—either in small ways or catastrophic ones." In South Africa, the process of making art is hard, sure, but more than that, the conditions and the context in which we make work fails us in catastrophic ways that will require more than a debate and amended legislation. It will need, for starters, a minister who cares about the arts and understands its soul and mechanisms. This pause has brought about more questions and concerns for me than inspiration to reinvent or think outside the box. I have questions about the box itself and why I feel asphyxiated and trapped by its design.

I would rather breathe than think outside of the box

This pandemic has made me question what my career, livelihood and stability have been built on; what has been propping them up all this time, and what has been allowing me to appear valued and valuable in this economy? What does and will the spectrum of value look like in a normal that has been disrupted and now sits in a near distant future that may or may not be near?

Then I find myself vacillating between hope and concern. My hope is that when the pandemic is no longer with us, artists can have a come-to-jesus conversation about what has contributed and exacerbated this attitude and disrespect toward our practice and industry, I hope we can challenge the legislations that we have been dared to challenge, I hope we can be productive in ways that serve us and make sense for our well-being, that we will be paid our worth and that our society will realize that without the artist producing, there will be no art, or music, or films, or books and things that have kept people entertained and creatively nourished during this time.

My concern is that the "free"content artists are currently creating and the free access to art or performances, will not make this realisation possible, and that this kind of access, that was already undervalued and exploited, will be irreversible. The exploitation dialogue is tiring. Being treated as non-essential is tiring and terrifying too, and while most of the world can slowly start going back to work, most artists will probably have to hang tight until 2021, maybe even 2022.

While artists deal with a hoax of an arts and culture department that is dead to us and a minister who tweets more than he does his job, in an ideal world, I wish that artists could afford to indulge uncertainty, and fear, and pause, in ways that allow them to heed the call made by Nicholas Berger in his piece The Forgotten Art of Assembly [Or, Why Theatre Makers Should Stop Making] "We must lean into this pain. We must feel the grief. We must mourn. Mourn the loss of work, the loss of jobs, the loss of money, the loss of life. Mourn the temporary loss of an art form that demands assembly. Lean into the grief. Lean in. Lean in. Lean in. We must remind ourselves that mourning is a human act, not a digital one."

Koleka Putuma is an award-winning poet, playwright and theatre director. Her bestselling debut collection of poems Collective Amnesia is in its 10th print run and her play No Easter Sunday for Queers Sunday for Queers won several awards.

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